The full-page advert in a special Black History edition of USA Today presents a technicolor vision of modern-day Tulsa, with sparkling images of public parks and brightly-painted murals celebrating the local Black community under the banner headline: “Tulsa Triumphs”.
“Tulsa is leading America’s journey to racial healing,” the text says, inviting visitors from across the US to sample the delights of Oklahoma’s second-largest city. The enticements include “an emotional opportunity for learning and reflection” and a “space for reconciliation… Tulsa triumphs, and you can be a part of this pilgrimage.”
The advert is a brazen attempt to turn Tulsa’s grim distinction as the setting of one of the most grotesque mass lynchings in US history into a tourist draw. It is the work of the Tulsa Race Massacre Centennial Commission, a body of prominent state and city politicians and other local notables who have put together the city’s established version of the 100th anniversary of a very special day.
On that day, 31 May 1921, white Tulsans ran amok, shooting any Black person in sight, dropping incendiary devices from the air onto their homes and burning to the ground one of the most flourishing Black business districts in the country, known as “Black Wall Street”. Some 35 blocks of Black real estate in the Greenwood neighbourhood were destroyed.
At least 300 men, women and children were murdered. Over 24 hours, Tulsa witnessed what is thought to be the worst single event of white supremacist violence against African Americans in the nation’s history.
From the terror of 31 May 1921 to the “triumph” of 31 May 2021 – it makes for a powerful attraction for visitors. The only hitch with this depiction of Tulsa rising from the ashes is that from the perspective of the Black survivors and many of the descendants of the massacre, it has no bearing in reality.